Covid-19 health and safety
Locally, Brighton UCU has been working very hard to ensure that the University of Brighton does not put any of our members, their families or wider society at risk during this pandemic. This page summarises some of our activity and lists some of the current issues that remain unresolved.
UCU Brighton actions
Date: Wed 22 May
Event: Joint Negotiating Committee [attended by University Executive Board (UEB), UCU and UNISON, chaired by VC Debra Humphris]
Points raised by UCU Brighton:
- Question: Where is UEB’s written case that clearing has to take place on campus, given that they agree that only activities which cannot take place off-campus should happen? We said there must have been some sort of paper for UEB. They objected that they had already given verbal explanations and didn’t want to repeat themselves. We requested this explanation in writing so that we can scrutinise the justification. We have not yet received that written explanation [Wed 3 June]
- Question: Within any of the relevant plans, why aren’t there some overriding criteria that must be met before on-campus activities can resume? For example, numbers of cases, R rate, testing regime in operation, second spike and so on? No answer was given.
- We complained that though they were meeting with TU H&S reps, nothing we said was finding its way into the risk assessments or documents. They said they were committed to consulting with us. In other words, their view is that having UCU reps in meetings then ignoring their points and failing to note their points on minutes = consultation. As such, this can only be regarded as confirmation that they will continue not to consult with the trade unions.
- We asked if attendance on campus for clearing would be voluntary so that staff could assess their own risk, factoring in their personal circumstances. They would not say ‘voluntary’, but did say that clearing would be staffed on the basis of individual sensitive conversations. Even this has not been undertaken, we have already had staff being told to sign up for clearing rotas without any such conversation taking place.
Date: Tues 2 June
Event: Race Equality Steering Group
Points raised by UCU Brighton:
- Students’ views have been collected by means of ‘pulse’ surveys since the beginning of lockdown. Staff views have not been requested or collected centrally. The process of collecting staff feedback has been devolved to schools, which has not in all cases taken place or been effective. This means that important voices have not been heard by managers during the crisis to-date.
- A need to consult BAME staff, and also staff network, about community-specific experiences during COVID-19 and also in-light of the current situation internationally with regards to police violence and civil rights in the United States.
- Student support was emphasised as a key race equalities goal. We raised that in order to support students, staff need the emotional resources and to be supported themselves. We emphasised the need to highlight counselling services and that BAME counsellors are available.
- Raised that the UCU Equalities Officer at Brighton has not been consulted with or been privy to drafts or documentation related to the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA). This EIA documentation that has been referred to in communications since lockdown and the UCU should have been given access to it order to represent our members to support the validation of such documentation.
- Raised issues of online bullying and intimidation by students directed at academic staff due to the move to online teaching platforms. This particularly effects female and BAME staff.
These points were broadly acknowledged by Andrew Lloyd (PVC Academic Operations), with the exception of the Equality Impact Assessment which PVC Andrew Lloyd asked be addressed outside the meeting.
Reports from Health and Safety Committee meetings and other meetings to be added soon.
Ref. 3031RA: “Coronavirus risks in relation to Clearing”, to view this document, log in at https://uob.assessweb.co.uk/login.aspx
The risk assessment for clearing has been produced without consultation with the trade unions. Its sign off date was Tuesday 2 June 2020 but it has not been signed off. Its contents show that the university’s plans to mitigate risks relating to Covid-19 are in no way sufficient.
Planning for next Academic Year
Plans for the 2020/21 academic year are underway without appropriate trade union consultation. For example, students were told in a message on Monday 1 June from Ruth Whittaker, PVC for Education and Students, that the University’s plans for next year are based on, amongst other things:
All students having opportunities for face-to-face on-campus interaction with their academic tutors and peers – albeit in smaller groups which reflect social distancing and related guidelines.
These same plans were stated in a message to all staff in a message from VC Debra Humphris on Friday 29 May. Telling students and staff in June that they can expect face to face interaction on campus in September is irresponsible. The VC’s message also stated:
As part of our preparations, we are putting in place additional support for academic colleagues to assist them with the planning and delivery of digitally-enabled learning as part of a dual/hybrid model of academic delivery for 20/21. This includes investment in technology which will enable the development and delivery of high quality, accessible learning and teaching activities and provide additional ways of enriching our students’ learning experiences. A key focus will be enhancing a sense of belonging and community for our new and returning students. We will also be investing in training, development and support for academic colleagues and course teams in digital learning.
Notable by its absence in this ‘additional support’ is any additional workload allocation. Staff will need many more hours to undertake any teaching next year. The activities of learning to use new technology and undertaking training are two things that will take up still more time.
In all of this, the University has failed to consult with the trade unions.
National UCU advice
- prevent the spread and transmission of COVID-19 within their workplaces and fulfil their legal duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- conduct ‘suitable and sufficient’ risk assessments in consultation with trade unions and employees which seek to first prevent or eliminate workplace hazards or control risks at their source
- identify all potential hazards and risks within the workplace in consultation with trade unions and employees. Risk assessments should consider all those who could be harmed by the hazards identified including employees, students, contractors, visitors, members of the public and so on. Risk assessments should capture what actually happens in practice and include any non-routine tasks
- all those identified as being at a greater risk need to also be specifically identified in any risk assessment as required under Reg 3 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regs 1999 – including new and temporary workers, young people, migrant workers, new or expectant mothers
- as new evidence emerges in relation to COVID-19, the risk assessments should include those who are at greater potential risk of infection or poorer outcomes from COVID-19 (including long-term health conditions, older age, pregnancy, and Black and Minority Ethnic people)
- appoint competent persons with appropriate levels of knowledge and expertise to undertake risk assessments (union health and safety reps must be consulted about the appointment of competent persons). Once completed the risk assessments should be signed off by the employer and regularly reviewed to ensure the effectiveness of control measures
- provide sufficient information, instruction and training to ensure employees and others understand the hazards to which they are exposed and the preventative and protective control measures that should be in place
- ensure they communicate their risk management systems and procedures to all staff and regularly review the effectiveness of these in consultation with trade unions and employees.